Monday, March 28, 2011

Because we All Need to be Reminded

Walking down the beach today, these words suddenly came to me in the flash of a momentary notion and I thought, 
with the way that the world is right now
I am not the only one who needs to hear this.
So I picked up the nearest stick and I wrote you a message because I knew that the thought would pass through my mind, nearly unnoticed, with the thousands(tens of thousands?) of other words that would flit through my mind by the end of the day.

You are, you know.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What is Real

I walked into the beautiful lobby of The Montage Hotel (One of my favorite places on earth!) with a feeling of great anticipation.  I could sense that the person who was waiting for me was standing very near.  As I turned my head toward her our eyes linked in instant recognition and our entire bodies lit up in bright smiles.  We headed for one another, arms wide open, and landed in an embrace which felt both entirely comfortable and very familiar.  Nothing unusual about two good friends meeting up for lunch, but this was different.  Kathy and I had never met in the physical before.  Since about 2007, we have been encouraging, supporting and caring deeply about one another over the Internet.  Kathy lives in Chicago and I live in California.  Blogs and emails have been our main lines of communication. In other words, as Kathy so aptly put it a few months ago, we are pen-pals.  Albeit, the modern, electronic version of pen-pals, but pen-pals, nonetheless.  And although this form of communication has gone on for ages (I still remember my pen-pal from Butte, Montana who was given to me as a child by my school), people are always surprised to find out that friendships, real friendships can grow out of meeting someone online.  And yet, why not?  We meet people in all kinds of unusual situations, so why not electronically.  I believe that we are drawn to those we are drawn to for a reason.  I also believe that our souls can recognize those who are meant to be a part of our lives long before we consciously see it with our own eyes.  There is a knowing.  There is a glimmer.  There is the feeling of "Where have you been?"  Trusting in my beliefs, I have developed many online friendships that are no less real than any of my "real life" friendships.  And although I understand and watch for the inherent dangers of making an online connection, I also trust that I will recognize a problem far before the meeting stage.  I have spent enough time lecturing my own daughters about this to know.  I am also cynical and savvy enough to not be fully aware of all of the dangers in the world.  That being said(mostly for my daughters and my fathers sake), I knew that Kathy was someone whom I was meant to meet.  When the opportunity arose, I was very happy.
And so, there we were.  Two women who had never met before, chatting and laughing and being quiet with one another as we asked each other question after question and listened intently to one another's answers.  We did not even look at our menus until about two hours after we sat down knowing that it wasn't about the food, but the friendship.  At one point, I noticed a man who was sitting at another table with a woman who had her head down and dark sunglasses on her face.  He kept looking over at me and  because he looked so familiar, I had to peruse my mental rolodex.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that the couple was one who used to be on The Housewives of Orange County and that the reason the gentleman kept looking over at me was because he wanted to be recognized.  Of course, the irony was a little lost on Kathleen because she doesn't watch any of those shows(good for her!), but being that many of these people are my neighbors, and my kids know their kids, I sometimes do.  And even though my Angel Daughter Number Two worked with this Housewife's daughter for a while, I would not feel at all comfortable walking up to her and introducing myself.  She seems far too removed from reality. I found it interesting how some "characters" who expose their lives on a reality show seem less real to me than someone whom I have, up until that point, only met online.  Life is funny.
Kathy and I talked for hours.  We made a friend.  A seagull kept landing on the roof next to our table and although I know I am "not supposed to", I kept pitching french fries his way.  As someone who has rescued more than one seagull suffering from malnutrition in the winter/spring months, I have no problems sharing my food with them.  Kathy not only put up with my feeding of the seagull but also shared with me some stories about the results of her generosity with little critters.  We laughed, loudly.  The staff kept coming outside to our table to see if we needed anything else.  Kathy asked them if we were being too loud.  They said of course not!  We shared a dessert and chatted some more.  I recognized Kathy's daughter and her sweet friend walking up the path down below us and she came up to say hello.  What a sweetheart!  I adored her right away.  I really enjoyed meeting her!   I asked her if she would take some photos for us and she agreed wholeheartedly.  Unfortunately, the skies were a bit overcast that day but she took some wonderful pictures for us.  It was especially cute when she told us to do some silly poses which made us all laugh.  Suddenly, Kathy and I were acting like two teenage girls who were enjoying the day with each other.
This is actually my favorite picture of us.  When Kathy's beautiful daughter told us to do something silly, we both put our fingers up in the same pose!  Since it was getting late and neither one of us wanted to say good-bye, we decided to check out the little stationary/perfume shop which is outside of the hotel.  It was fun because Kathy had not yet discovered it and so we got to enjoy it together.  We each purchased some wonderful journaling materiel as well as a little book called, This is Water, by David Foster Wallace.  As we said good-bye, we embraced tightly and I knew that we would see each other again in the future.  Who knows, maybe next time in Chicago?

When I got home that evening, Mark smiled as I chattered on about my day and how much I enjoyed spending it with Kathy.  You see, as I have become more and more affected by my chronic illness,  I stay home a lot(out of necessity, but still), friends of many years have slowly dropped away not knowing how to be in a relationship with the new me(who is still me, by the way), and I have not been able to create any new friendships because of my lack of energy and my need to put as much of it as I can into my four daughters and my beloved husband.  But I think that in my renewed enthusiasm, Mark recognized more than a glimmer of "the old me" and it made him very happy to see me so happy.  It made me happy too, to know that she is still in here.  And although I am realistic to know that I cannot go out for days at a time, visiting with friends, chatting for hours, etc., I do know that I still get great enjoyment out of making that kind of a connection.

That night, Kathy texted me to ask if I had read the little book that we both bought.  Her reaction to it was , "Wow".  I told her that I would read it in the morning, but then, I could not resist.  I sat down and read it that night.  It was about living consciously and in the moment.  It was about learning and changing and accepting, even amongst the struggles.  It was about living a compassionate life.  I went to sleep so grateful to Kathy and to my husband and to the angels, God, and a friend who "introduced" us to one another.  And I said a prayer of thanks to whoever invented the Internet(um, Al Gore, of course) because without the Internet, Kathy and I would most likely have never met.  And I would never have met all of the wonderful individuals who so graciously read my words and leave me such beautiful, kind comments which lead me to their wonderful blogs from which I gather so much.  So very much.  Do not ever doubt that we are all friends, real friends.  Our blogs are like the backyard fences of yesterday or the pen-pal notes before the Internet.  They allow us to create amazing connections where there might never have been one possible.  I love that.

Thank you, Kathy, my sweet pen-pal, for our wonderful day.  And I meant it when I said you are beautiful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Because Our Hearts Ache, We Search For the Silly

There is a throbbing sensation propelling itself wildly into all of the nerve endings in my body.  Pain messages firing haphazardly, ricocheting off of my every cell and I tell myself to disregard them, there is no inherent danger.  Some of it is chronic illness rearing its painful head, and some of it is the psychic pain that I have not been able to shake since Friday.  All is not right with the world.  It never is.  Which is why it is so incredibly human to search for that "rightness" within ourselves.

I was told, many years ago on a trip to Sedona, Arizona with my family, that I absorb pain.  If there is someone standing across the street from me and they are in physical or emotional distress, I will somehow zero in on them.  When this happens, I try to take a moment to access the situation, but this has never been my first instinct.  My first instinct is to react.  To respond.  To rescue.  I do this often and sometimes to my own detriment.  God did not provide me with the necessary body-type to carry people out of burning buildings, but he did give me the spirit to react as if I could.  One of the many examples of "We make plans.  God laughs."  And yet, I have to believe that somehow, I am as I am meant to be.

So, my body is resonating with the pain of those who live over five thousand miles and an ocean away.  I am looking for ways in which to escape from the pain.  Their pain, my own pain.  My body's pain.  And so I began randomly scrolling through recent photos that I have taken with my cellphone.  Merely a distraction, I know, but a necessary one, at that.

I came across these photos of my youngest Angel Daughter, AD4, with our Parolette, Cody, and I was struck by the old "people and their pets often resemble each other" theory.  Momentarily, I was lifted out of the striking pain and transported to a place of tender amusement.  How I love my children.
And how they try to ignore me when I am doting upon them.

Because if there is one way to find your way out of yourself, spend some time observing a teenager equipped with a cell phone and a laptop computer trying to ignore their parents admiration.

Or a six inch bird,

which shares the same feather-color and lack of enthusiasm for the parents amusement as said teenager.

And see who gives in first.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life on the Edge/Dangerous Beauty

*San Clemente, CA during the Tsunami Advisory that was issued here.
The earth seems angry, very angry.  I say the earth, but it might just as well be God, Adonai, Buddha, YHWH, Jesus Christ, or any number of the Hindu Deities.  The rage is expressed in mind-numbing rattles and surging walls of water rushing five hundred miles an hour toward panic-stricken people.  Clinging to tree branches which race by in a moment of pure instinct-motivated survival.  Praying even if for the first time in an entire life.  Gasping for air.  Grabbing for the surface.  Moving toward the light.

My heart aches in a rhythm which can only be described as that of the rolling waves which thunder below my window.  I live on the edge of what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.  80-90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur within this area.  This is a fact.  And as a Californian, I have lived with the knowledge of this fact since my husband and I packed up everything we owned in a Dodge cube-van, and trekked out to California twenty-six years ago next September, to begin our life together.  To plant our own roots.  To raise our own family.  To flourish.  And yet, living in an area of such natural beauty also brings with it the immanent possibility of destruction.  Living on the edge of the Pacific ocean commands respect for that which is treacherously beautiful.  Dangerously beautiful.  I have a very healthy respect for the strength and capability of nature.  I no longer go deep into the ocean, knowing that I am no longer a strong swimmer and am of no match for that which can lull me into a sense of hypnotic, false complacency.  We have an "understanding", the ocean and I.  I admit that I am no match for the things which can pull me down and eat me underneath the dark, rolling waves, and the ocean allows me to wade semi-predictably upon the shoreline, honoring its power and dangerous beauty.  Fairly simple equation, yes?  Until the ocean becomes unpredictable because of an earthquake.  Because of impending anger?  Because sometimes people do not believe it when they notice that the water is surging back, uncharacteristically, and they decide to stay anyway?

And yet, here I am living on the edge of that which is angry, beautiful and often, unpredictable.  But I will not leave.  I will not leave for many of the same reasons that the people of Japan who resided in those dangerously beautiful seaside towns did not leave.  I trust.
I trust that all of the natural wonders that were created on this Pacific Rim were placed here not to repel man, but to draw us near.  I trust that whatever statement nature, the earth, God, Krishna, etc. is making, it is not meant to make us run away, but to draw us in closer...To one another.
And so, as I sit admiring the unbridled, picturesque beauty of the Pacific ocean and its shorelines, I will focus on the trust and send a prayer for healing out into the world.  I will pray for those who live in Japan as they face this uphill struggle to piece their lives back together.  I will pray for the souls of those who were lost to this natural tragedy.  And I will pray that the world will come together to help the Japanese people remember that they are not alone.  That we are all connected, if even by oceans, in our humanity.
Because to focus on the anger would give power to that which can destroy.  But to focus on the trust, the compassion, the humanity...In that, there is always renewal.

Refuah Shlema

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Memory-Keeper

*I am having trouble with the margins on this post.  I will try again tomorrow to fix the issue.  It is possible that the problem is with Blogger because I haven't seen this happen before.  Thanks for your

I came across a well-worn Ziploc bag filled with memories a couple of moons ago, and the interesting thing about it is that they were not my memories, but the memories of my beloved grandmother.  The memories of someone who passed away six years ago.  The memories of those who have come before and yet, still linger around me like a distant, slowly dissipating perfume, quietly awakened on the wisp of an unexpected breeze. A stack of love letters written by my very smitten grandfather as he wooed his future wife until she just had to say yes.  He often addressed her as "Kid" in those early writings.    Funny.  Newspaper clippings, yellowed with decades and decades of time, paper as delicate as butterfly wings.  Wisps of almost nothing, and yet, oh so much.  An amethyst rock lifted from some national park by my grandparents as they vacationed with friends.  I used to pick up this fine specimen with my tiny hands when I was a small child visiting my grandparents house in the Bronx, marveling at its incredible beauty while often begging to take it home.  My grandmother did not give it to me until much, much later in my life when the memories became more important than the object which held them.  

There were other things my grandmother gave me.   Photos, trinkets, table clothes and a very lovely diamond ring that she wanted me to have while she was still alive to watch me enjoy it.  She wanted to make sure that these things, these treasured memories and valued objects, would end up in the right hands.(Or on the right hand, as the diamond ring is so lovingly worn!)  My grandmother impacted my life in a way that is difficult to describe yet, so easy to recall.  She was a strong woman with an incredibly hearty laugh.  She loved to laugh, especially at the inadvertent(sometimes, inappropriate) jokes my father would make to entertain and amuse her.  Her friends used to tell me that I have her easy laugh and I love that, even now.  I am proud of it.  Very, very proud of it.  She adored my dad and was so apparently proud of him.  No matter how old she got, she was still like a Mother Bear to him.  In her eyes, he was perfect.  My grandma was extremely intelligent and kept up on all of the current events.  She had an opinion!  Oh boy, did she have an opinion, but she was kind-hearted, generous and loyal to a fault.  She loved my husband, fiercely.  She introduced him as her grandson, never, ever her grandson-in-law.  I would sometimes have to explain to people that I was her granddaughter and that he was my husband, but none of that mattered to her.  Mark was her grandson.  There were times when I thought that she doted much more lovingly on my husband than she did upon me, but that was always okay with me.  He loved her, too.
My grandmother spent most of her life in the Bronx, New York until my dad and I agreed that she could not live that far away, anymore.  We were her only family and it was becoming increasingly harder for my dad to fly back and forth between coasts when she needed someone to advocate for her health.  It was then that we decided to move her out to CA.  I cannot say that she was happy about it, at first.  She had her friends, her life, her entire history on the east coast.  But, the people who cared about her most in the world lived an entire country away from her, and so, somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to change coasts.  At first, she would not admit how much she enjoyed living out here, comparing everything to its counterpart in NY.  But slowly, she began to admit how much she really enjoyed being close to her son, her granddaughter and her grandsons(My brother, too) and all of her great-granddaughters.  For the last twelve or so years of her life, she lived only several minutes away from me.  I became much more than her granddaughter.  I honestly think she almost believed that I was more like a daughter to her.  And as she became more dependent upon the care of others, Mark and I and my dad(He lives a couple of hours away from us), would tend to her in ways that only loving, caring, compassionate family members would do.  
And when the end of her life so sadly came, Mark, my father, his wife and I, all sat down together and lovingly discussed the options and allowed her to slip away with as much dignity, compassion and love as we could gift to her.  When we decided that her transition from this world to whatever lies beyond was immanent, I allowed my dad to leave the hospital, and I crawled into bed with her and gently told her that she had done good.  That her life was one well-lived and that she would be missed terribly, but that it was okay for her to close her eyes and fly.  At 91 years of age, she deserved not to be in pain anymore.  We let her go and she let go...

So now, I am the memory-keeper.  I lovingly share my grandmother's memories, stories, trinkets, photos, and eventually, the diamond that I wear on my right hand, with my own children and God willing, someday my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  When the time comes for me to release the objects which tell so many parts of the story, I will pass them openly and willingly on to my own daughters and grandchildren.  By then the stories will be so much a part of who I am, that they will fill every single cell within my body, like the DNA that we all share.  Like the love that we all share.  Because in the end, that is all that really matters.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Kissed a Girl and I Liked it; Well, Sort of~

When we first met up with Jen, Jack, Kate and Gretchen, they were exhausted, overwhelmed and covered in Disney pixie-dust.  They had spent the day shlepping around Disneyland, Moo-Moos and all, and as wonderful as that can be, it is tiring beyond measure.  Jack snuggled into each one of us as he dreamed peacefully about flying, about all of the stuff that nine year old boys dream of after a busy day at Disneyland. When he woke up momentarily, he crawled sleepily into my lap, looked at me with his  big, gorgeous brown eyes, and took the Moo-Moo that he was holding and wrapped its fuzzy legs around my neck.  Before I received a hug from my boy, I received one from his loyal, somewhat stinky, but oh-so-well loved friend.  I melted into a puddle of mush.  Jack is not that much shorter than I am, but he fit perfectly into my lap.  We sat heart to heart as Jack sunk back into blissful slumber, clinging to my neck the entire time.  I kissed the top of his precious head more times than I can count, knowing that I would not have as much of an opportunity to do so once he arose from his sleep.  Jack is, after all, a nine and a half year old boy.  He smelled like sweetness and boy-sweat and angel, all in one.  An intoxicating nectar which captured my senses on a level that I can hardly describe(especially being the momma of only daughters).  I sat for a few minutes taking it all in.  This boy, our boy, who I hadn't seen since he was under a year old, felt like one of my own.  Somehow, the embrace lined our hearts up perfectly.  I could feel the unbridled energy of this little boys heart connecting with the rhythm of my own and it was good.  I could feel our hearts connecting as if to say, "Ah, there you are."  Jen always said that she felt as if Jack and I were kindred spirits.  When the food showed up at our table, I refused to let go of Jack's sleepy body so my beloved husband cut my food up and fed me careful bites over Jack's fuzzy head.  Jen also took turns placing bites of chicken gently into my mouth while Angel Daughter Number Four bonded quickly with sweet little Kate.  Kate, Jack's sister, is six and does not really like to have her picture taken, but I snuck in some cute ones with her permission, later on.  The restaurant was noisy and full of other people, but the love at our table was affirming and intimate.  After a while, a long while, I asked my husband if he would like to hold Jack.  We passed him gently as he continued to sleep, a mixture of Disney-fatigue and strong pain medications.  I watched Mark cradle this precious boy as they fell into one another.  The look on my husband's face described the bittersweet feelings in his heart.  So sweet.

Jack woke up when Jen and Gretchen were collecting their luggage from the hotel and he asked me if he could ride home in our car.  He sat in the back seat with AD4 wearing his Mickey Mouse Pirate ears, chatting, asking lots of questions and cuddling.  When AC/DC came on the radio(My husband loves rock music!), Jack asked if we could turn it up.  He tapped his hand on his knee to the pounding rhythm of the music and watched out the window until he spotted a Carl's Jr. sign in the distance.  I asked him if he wanted to stop and he said YES!  He could have asked for the moon and we would have found a way to lasso it for him.

We set everyone up in our beach house and left them to rest the day off.
The next day when we got back to the house, Jen was taking pictures of Jack in the perfect sunset.  Angel Daughter Number One and Angel Daughter Number Four hopped in for a few shots.  We told Jack to give AD4 a kiss on the cheek.  After a bit of coaxing and cajoling, Jack gave in reluctently.
Since we were on a role, we asked Jack to give AD1 a kiss so that she wouldn't feel left out.  He started to get the hang of it very, very quickly!  Soon, he was giving out kisses without making the face.  He is such a trooper!
Well, sort of.   Here is how Jen was really able to convince Jack to kiss on the girls.  She used something a bit more tangible in the mind of a nine and a half year old boy, crafty mom.  Bribery!  When Jen began to renegotiate the terms after the kisses were already deposited, Jack started to get very upset.  Somehow, the forty dollar price started to come down as Jen reminded Jack about some of his outstanding debts.  His displeasure only lasted a few minutes and then, Jack was back to being his happy, smiley self again although I wasn't quite sure why.  After all, he had been duped into kissing not only one girl, but two!!!  
It was then that I noticed the two men with their heads together, my dear husband looking a bit satisfied with himself and Jack, holding his handmade, duct-tape(guys and their duct tape!) wallet in his hand.  When I asked Jack what Uncle Mark had given him, he sheepishly withdrew a $100.00 bill(Dad, you would be very proud.) from inside of his wallet.  Mark, understanding Jack's anguish over having negotiated a price for some photos and kisses, immediately pulled Jack aside, told him to share the money with his sister, and slipped a $100.00 bill into Jack's hand.(Sorry, Jen)  But there could be no price too large to satisfy the heart of this precious little man.  He is a unique old soul in a young, failing body who landed upon this earth to teach us all so very much.  Quite honestly, I think he would have kissed the girls cheeks without being bribed, but don't tell any of his friends that.  We will just leave it as an understanding between two men, and a $100.00 bill tucked safely into a duct-tape wallet.  That is their story and they're sticking to it.

*More information on how to follow Jack in the post below.
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